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Council sets tax rate, talks budget

Friday, August 28, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

On Thursday, City Council tackled the city budget once again. Though a deadline to finalize the budget is fast approaching, Council members opted to keep all of their budget proposals on the table for the time being.

Although Council covered a breadth of issues during its discussion, Mayor Steve Adler explained it was not the time to make decisions. That, he said, could wait until its Sept. 1 meeting.

Instead, Council members ran through the list of 65 budget increases, 32 budget reductions and 19 revenue changes proposed on their “budget concept menu.”

“At our next meeting … I think people will actually be saying, ‘These are changes that I’d like to have made,’ and it will be a more serious conversation,” said Adler. “I would hope that between now and (Sept. 1), people will start actually trying to figure out generally where they would want their budget to be.”

Adler further explained that, at that meeting, he envisioned that they would vote on amendments to the budget. In the meantime, Adler saw Thursday’s meeting as an opportunity for people to “generally express where they were.”

The tactic left things fairly hazy. About an hour and a half into the meandering discussion, Council Member Delia Garza pointed out, “If we were to stop right now, I would still have no idea where anybody is on any of these.”

Earlier in the day, Council members did make one decision, setting the maximum tax rate at 46.09 cents per $100 in taxable value. That rate is the highest rate that would not require a rollback election, and it is 2 cents lower than the current tax rate.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo said that while the city had lowered the tax rate a few times during his tenure, “We have not had a year, at least as far back as we’ve been tracking the median data, where the tax bill has actually been lower from one year to the next” due to increasing property values.

In years past, Council adopted the practice of setting the maximum tax rate without much fuss, as it isn’t a commitment to implement that rate, just a promise not to exceed it. However, it sparked an ideological spat on the dais Thursday, with Council Members Don Zimmerman, Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo voting in opposition.

Gallo, Troxclair and Zimmerman all advocated for the lower maximum tax rate of 45.98, which is the amount of property tax revenue included in the current budget, saying it would be a sign of their commitment to cutting the budget.

Troxclair explained, “Although we’re not setting the actual tax rate today, I think it would send an important message to the community that we are taking affordability issues seriously and that we will commit to not reaching the absolute maximum tax rate.”

The majority of Council, including Adler, disagreed.

“I’m just not comfortable, at this point in time, making any decisions or choices about the budget,” said Adler.

Photo by Steven Depolo made available through a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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